Category Archive: Times of Israel

When fashionista Karl Lagerfeld helped fund a synagogue for Holocaust survivors

The Chanel director who died last month was famous for his style, attitude, and to one small congregation on the French Riviera, for his contribution to the shul fund


Fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld walks over the stage at Chanel's pre-fall Metiers d'Art fashion show in the new Elbphilharmonie concert house in Hamburg, northern Germany, Wednesday, December 6, 2017. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

Fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld walks over the stage at Chanel’s pre-fall Metiers d’Art fashion show in the new Elbphilharmonie concert house in Hamburg, northern Germany, Wednesday, December 6, 2017. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

If you ask Rabbi Shalom Betito who Karl Lagerfeld is, he’ll probably point to a marble plaque on his French Riviera synagogue’s wall.

Lagerfeld, who died February 19, was famous for reviving the Chanel brand and recognized the world over by his signature look — black sunglasses, fingerless gloves, and high-collared shirts (Glamour magazine reportedthat he had 1,000 of them).

Even after his death, the quirky — and sometimes contentious — Chanel creative director continues to make headlines. He’s reportedly left a significant chunk of his $195 million estate to his pet Choupette, which will do far more than keep the cat in kibble. Her lavish lifestyle includes the attention of two personal assistants, dinners of caviar and pate served on designer dishes and private air travel. Choupette herself has some 300,000 Instagram followers.

But at Betito’s small congregation in Menton, a quiet town of 28,000 located on the French Riviera, Lagerfeld also has quite a reputation — for his contribution to the synagogue’s building fund back in the early 1980s.

Speaking with The Times of Israel this week, Betito said the synagogue was started in 1964 by a small group of Holocaust survivors who accidentally discovered that they had the numbers to build a congregation.

“It began with a circumcision,” Betito said. “They brought in a mohel from Nice, the closest big city, and they put the word out, hoping to get some guests. They were completely surprised when 200 people showed up.”

Centre Altynter, the synagogue in Menton, France, to which Karl Lagerfeld made a donation. (Courtesy Shalom Betito)

Betito, who is originally from Lyon and has been the synagogue’s spiritual leader for the last eight years, said that following the celebration the local Jews were inspired to form a community. They started out in a temporary space, and then, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, decided it was time to expand.

At the time, Lagerfeld lived in the La Vigie mansion in neighboring Monaco. When he was informed of the project by his friend, Jewish philanthropist Edmond Safra (known for supporting countless synagogues the world over, including funding the renovation of the Grand Choral Synagogue in St. Petersburg), Lagerfeld was moved to make a donation.

Uncharacteristically, the usually flamboyant Lagerfeld insisted that his contribution be anonymous.

Contradicting recent reports that Lagerfeld funded the bulk of the renovations made to the small residence that would be the synagogue’s new home, Betito said that the fashion designer’s donation was not among the largest – though it was far from insignificant.

“I don’t know exactly how much he gave, but to get on the plaque you had to give at least the equivalent of 2,000 euro [$2,260 US] in today’s money,” Betito said. “But it wasn’t only about the money. The community really benefited from the moral support that Lagerfeld gave, too.”

“He knew that most of the community was survivors of the Shoah, and so he wanted to participate,” Betito said.

The plaque in the synagogue of Menton, France, listing Karl Lagerfeld among the donors. (Daniel Bensoussan)

Though he requested to remain anonymous, in the end, Lagerfeld’s name was discreetly – if somewhat incongruously – listed among the roughly two dozen donors on the otherwise run of the mill plaque, not unlike others decorating synagogue walls the world over.

And while it is unusual to find a non-Jewish name on a list of synagogue backers, in the case of Lagerfeld it is even more unique given his history of heading up the company founded by Coco Chanel — a notorious anti-Semite who was the lover of a Nazi officer and was even thought to be a Nazi intelligence agent.

Then again, Lagerfeld’s apparent soft spot for Holocaust survivors also seemed at odds with accusations against him of insensitivity (or outright bigotry) towards women and minorities.

Lagerfeld, born in Hamburg, Germany in 1933, sparked controversy in 2017 when he criticized German PM Angela Merkel’s open-door policy to Muslim refugees.

“You cannot kill millions of Jews and then take in millions of their worst enemies afterwards, even if there are decades [between the events],” he said during an appearance on a French talk show.

Regardless of Lagerfeld’s motivations for making the contribution, one thing remains fairly certain: Had Lagerfeld not chosen to donate the money to the nascent congregation, there’s a good chance it would have eventually gone toward cat food.

Belgian carnival float condemned for featuring anti-Semitic puppets of Jews

Jewish groups protest open displays of anti-Semitism at parade in town of Aalst, west of Brussels


A parade float at the Aalst Carnaval in Belgium featuring caricatures of Orthodox Jews atop money bags, March 3, 2019. (Courtesy of FJO, via JTA)

A parade float at the Aalst Carnaval in Belgium featuring caricatures of Orthodox Jews atop money bags, March 3, 2019. (Courtesy of FJO, via JTA)

Participants in a street celebration in the Belgian city of Aalst on Sunday paraded giant puppets of Orthodox Jews and a rat atop money bags, prompting Dutch Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs to condemn the act as “shocking, typical, anti-Semitic caricatures from 1939.”

The umbrella groups representing Flemish and French-speaking Jews in Belgium, FJO and CCOJB respectively, complained to the federal UNIA watchdog on racism about the display. “In a democracy like Belgium, there is no room for such things, carnival or not,” they wrote.

The group Vismooil’n created the two puppets as their 2019 theme for the Aalst carnival, the local edition of celebrations that take place throughout parts of Europe and Latin America annually, in anticipation of Lent, the 40-day period before Easter. Participants prepare floats and dance routines, parading them through town on Carnival.

The Vismooil’n group, a veteran participant that specializes in hyper-realistic puppets, created the display to address rising prices, they told a Belgian blogger last month. They titled the work “Shabbat Year.”

The display features two giant puppets with streimels, fur hats worn by some Orthodox Jews on special occasions, in pink suits. They both have sidelocks. One of the puppets is grinning while smoking a cigar and extending a hand, presumably to collect money. That puppet has a white rat on his right shoulder. Both puppets are standing on gold coins and have money bags at their feet.

In the background is a round window reminiscent of the architecture of many European synagogues and a small box resembling a mezuzah on its right-hand side.

For the 2013 Aalst carnival, a different group designed a float resembling a Nazi railway wagon used to transport Jews to death camps.

The people who designed the float, known as the FTP Group, marched near the float dressed as Nazi SS officers and Haredi Orthodox Jews. A poster on the wagon showed Flemish Belgian politicians dressed as Nazis and holding canisters labeled as containing Zyklon B, the poison used by the Nazis to exterminate Jews in gas chambers in the Holocaust.

Teaching the Holocaust to young refugee ‘new Swedes’

Several organizations, and a foundation started by late author Stieg Larsson, are taking on the challenge of helping students and teachers fight anti-Semitism


The Living History Forum in Stockholm, February 27, 2019. (Jonathan NACKSTRAND/ AFP)

The Living History Forum in Stockholm, February 27, 2019. (Jonathan NACKSTRAND/ AFP)

MALMO, Sweden (AFP) — They grew up in Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia and can place Israel on a map, but many young refugees in Sweden have never heard of the Holocaust.

Their first contact with Jewish history in Europe is often in the classroom and sometimes from the teachers themselves.

“One of my teachers was harassed by other students. He’s Jewish and they made fun of him all of the time,” says Nergis Resne, a 19-year-old born in Sweden to Turkish-Macedonian parents.

She has since joined the group Young People Against Anti-Semitism and Xenophobia founded by Siavosh Derakthi in Malmo, Sweden’s third-biggest city where one in three inhabitants was born abroad.

Organizations and a foundation started by Stieg Larsson, the late author of the best-selling “Millennium” crime trilogy, are taking on the challenge of helping students and teachers fight against anti-Semitism.

Despite online threats against him, Derakthi, 27, organizes seminars in schools, group talks and study visits to former concentration camps to raise young people’s awareness of the horrors of the mass killing of Jews during World War II and the need for peaceful coexistence.

“Some of them come from dictatorships, from war-zones brimming with anti-Semitic, homophobic and misogynist beliefs,” explains Derakthi, originally from Iran, who in 2013 won the first Raoul Wallenberg Prize in honor of the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Jews in the war.

Siavosh Derakhti founder of UMAF (Young people against Antisemitism and Xenophobia) an association fighting against antisemitism speaks with youth in Malmo suburbs, Sweden, on February 28, 2019. (Thibault SAVARY/AFP)

Educators say their job is made more difficult by the vast amount of prejudice, fake news and conspiracy theories circulating on social networks.

“The most popular is without a doubt YouTube, where the radical far-right propaganda and the propaganda from radical Islam occasionally overlap,” says Jonathan Leman, a researcher at the Larsson-founded Expo foundation.

Expo put together a booklet after 90 of the 100 teachers it surveyed in 2016 said their students believed conspiracy theories including that the Holocaust either never happened or not the way it’s told in history books.

The imam and the rabbi

A stone’s throw from Expo, in Stockholm’s Old Town, Ingrid Lomfors welcomes thousands of students each year to the Living History Forum museum. Here the aim is to foster understanding by appealing to people’s compassion and touching their hearts, rather than giving lessons in morality.

“Last year I had a wonderful exchange with three young Muslim girls about Anne Frank,” the Jewish girl in Amsterdam who wrote a diary before she died in a concentration camp, says Lomfors.

“They knew nothing about Anne Frank. They walked through the exhibit, and then at the end two of them told me they identified with her, because of the isolation, the constant threats, the persecution, not knowing if they’d be alive the next day.”

Ingrid Lomfors, head of The Living History Forum poses in Stockholm on February 27, 2019. (Jonathan NACKSTRAND/AFP)

In Malmo, imam Salahuddin Barakat and rabbi Moshe-David HaCohen have together founded the Amanah project aimed at building bridges between their two communities through festivals, workshops and lectures.

The challenge is rendered even more difficult by urban segregation, with large numbers of immigrant youths concentrated in the same neighborhoods and schools.

Swedes see anti-Semitism growing

According to the most recent report by the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention in 2016, three percent of crimes of religious, ethnic, political or sexual nature had an anti-Semitic character, in a country of 10 million people that is home to 15,000 to 20,000 Jews.

In one such case, young migrants from Syria and the Palestinian territories were convicted for throwing Molotov cocktails at a synagogue in Gothenburg in December 2017. No one was injured in the attack.

In 2016, anti-Muslim crimes were more than twice as common as anti-Semitic ones, at seven percent. Mosques and migrant housing centers were the targets of numerous attacks.

A laptop shows a scene of a documentary film used for education at the office of UMAF (Young people against Antisemitism and Xenophobia) organisation in Malmo, Sweden, on February 28, 2019. (Thibault SAVARY/AFP)

Police have not seen any significant rise in the number of anti-Semitic crimes reported since 2014, even though Sweden has taken in 400,000 migrants since then, more than any other European country per capita.

Sweden does not include ethnicity in its crime statistics.

Last year 35 police reports of anti-Semitic crimes were filed in Malmo, a number seen as stable but in all likelihood below the actual number, suggests Malmo police official Zandra Brodd.

Meanwhile three out of four Swedes believe anti-Semitism has grown in the past five years — the highest proportion in the European Union — according to a Eurobarometer study published by the European Commission in December.

“Many (Jews) choose to keep a low profile in public. They may for example hide a Star of David pendant inside their shirt or take off their kippah as soon as they leave the synagogue,” says a spokesman for Malmo’s Jewish community, Fredrik Sieradzki.

In January, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven pledged to allocate more funding so more youths can visit Holocaust memorial sites in Europe, and Sweden will host an international genocide conference in 2020.

Polish anti-Semitism festers on the internet

‘The old stereotypes are resurfacing,’ says prominent member of Jewish community as nation faces resurgent nationalist right


The German words 'Jude Raus' (Jew, get out) are written on the building of the Citizens of Poland (Obywatele RP) movement on February 26, 2019 in Warsaw, Poland. (Janek Skarzynski/AFP)

The German words ‘Jude Raus’ (Jew, get out) are written on the building of the Citizens of Poland (Obywatele RP) movement on February 26, 2019 in Warsaw, Poland. (Janek Skarzynski/AFP)

WARSAW, Poland (AFP) — Graffiti of a swastika and the words “Jude Raus” (Jew, get out) recently appeared overnight on the headquarters of a liberal opposition movement in the Polish capital Warsaw.

The act of vandalism in late February is the latest sign that anti-Semitism persists in the EU member nation, even if it mostly rears its ugly head on the internet.

“Twenty years ago I would have said that anti-Semitism is on the wane but that’s no longer the case. The old stereotypes are resurfacing,” said Stanislaw Krajewski, a University of Warsaw professor and prominent member of the Jewish community.

“Anti-Semitism is still present in Poland. It’s part of the overall climate,” he told AFP.

“But it’s most aggressive on the internet. It doesn’t come up in my day-to-day life,” added Krajewski, who also co-founded an organization for dialogue with Christians.

Stanislaw Krajewski, a University of Warsaw professor and prominent member of the Jewish community, on February 25, 2019 in Warsaw, Poland. (Janek Skarzynski/AFP)

For his part, journalist Konstanty Gebert said he had never had cause for concern when walking around Warsaw in his yarmulke.

“Sometimes, very rarely, I get comments. I don’t respond and usually someone else answers for me,” he told AFP.

“In Paris, on the other hand, I was jostled a couple of times by young people. Other passersby just looked away.”

Jews first arrived in Poland in the Middle Ages, and for centuries the country was home to the world’s largest Jewish community.

However, the population was decimated during the Nazi occupation. Three million Polish Jews died in the Holocaust during World War II, making up about half of the six million Poles who were killed.

A woman passes by a window bearing a swastika and a drawing of a Jewish Star of David on the gallows, on the building of the Citizens of Poland (Obywatele RP) movement on February 26, 2019 in Warsaw, Poland. (Janek Skarzynski/AFP)

Today, there are only around 8,000 to 12,000 Jews living in Poland, according to estimates.

Tension with Israel

Tensions have flared recently between Israel and Poland.

Last year, Warsaw passed a law that made it illegal to accuse the Polish nation or state of complicity in Nazi German crimes.

The move sparked an outcry from Israel, which sees it as an attempt to ban testimonials on Polish crimes against Jews. In response, Warsaw amended the law to remove the possibility of fines or a prison sentence.

Last month, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz then drew Poland’s ire by saying “Poles suckle anti-Semitism with their mothers’ milk.”

Hundreds of Poles gathered to express their solidarity with Jews who perished in the Holocaust, were expelled from Poland 50 years ago or feel the effects of anti-Semitism today, in Warsaw, Poland, March 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

Both incidents triggered a wave of hate speech on the internet in Poland, according to Konrad Dulkowski, head of an NGO that monitors racist and xenophobic behavior.

“Unfortunately the comments confirmed in a way what Katz had said,” Dulkowski told AFP.

Last year, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) released a survey on discrimination and hate crimes against Jews in the EU.

Self-identified Jewish respondents from a dozen EU member states were asked how often they had heard or seen non-Jews make anti-Semitic remarks like “Jews have too much power in (country)” or “Jews exploit Holocaust victimhood for their own purposes.”

In most of the survey’s sample statements, Poland had the highest percentage of respondents reporting having witnessed anti-Semitism.

Konrad Dulkowski, head of a Polish NGO that monitors racist and xenophobic behavior, on February 25, 2019 in Warsaw, Poland. (Janek Skarzynski/AFP)

‘Two Polands’

Poland’s far right has expressed its ideas more openly since the conservative Catholic Law and Justice (PiS) party came to power in 2015.

In Gebert’s view, those currently in power are “schizophrenic” in their approach to the far right.

“PiS condemns anti-Semitism. (Its leader) Jaroslaw Kaczynski has even condemned anti-Zionism as a form of anti-Semitism,” Gebert said.

“Yet at the same time, the PiS needs around nine percent of the far-right vote. Its biggest nightmare is to have a local version of Hungary’s (far-right) Jobbik party appear in Poland.”

He said the far right enjoys implicit support from the governing conservatives, all in the name of freedom of expression.

A sticker reading ‘Fuck You Israel’ on the window of the Citizens of Poland (Obywatele RP) movement on February 26, 2019 in Warsaw, Poland. (Janek Skarzynski/AFP)

“The fact that the far right doesn’t resort to violence is first and foremost because there are so few of us (Jews),” Gebert added.

But Krajewski pointed out that “at the same time, there’s an increasing awareness here of Jewish heritage and the desire to preserve it.”

As an example, he cited a recent contest from the Forum for Dialogue Among Nations — a foundation aimed at bringing Poles and Jews closer together — that garnered dozens of submissions from secondary school students.

“People don’t realize, even in Israel, that there are two Polands,” said Krajewski’s wife Monika, an artist and writer.

“There’s the anti-Semitic one but also the one that is fighting anti-Semitism.”

Vatican to open archives on WWII-era pope accused of silence on Holocaust

Secret documents on Pius XII, who served during WWII and its aftermath, could shed light on leader widely criticized by Jews


In this file photo dated September 1945, pope Pius XII, wearing the ring of St. Peter, raises his right hand in a papal blessing at the Vatican. (AP Photo, File)

In this file photo dated September 1945, pope Pius XII, wearing the ring of St. Peter, raises his right hand in a papal blessing at the Vatican. (AP Photo, File)

Declaring that the church “isn’t afraid of history,” Pope Francis said Monday he has decided to open up the Vatican archives on World War II-era pope Pius XII, who has been criticized by Jews for staying silent on the Holocaust.

Francis told officials and personnel of the Vatican Secret Archives that the archive would be open to researchers starting March 2, 2020.

Pius was elected pontiff on March 2, 1939, six months before World War II erupted in Europe. Pius died on October 9, 1958, at the Vatican summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, near Rome.

The Vatican usually waits 70 years after the end of a pontificate to open up the relevant archives. But the Holy See has been under pressure to make the Pius XII documentation available sooner and while Holocaust survivors are still alive.

Vatican archivists had already started preparing the documentation for consultation in 2006, at the behest of Francis’s German-born predecessor, Benedict XVI.

Pope Francis speaks during a Mass in the St. Crispino parish church, in the Labaro neighborhood, Rome, Sunday, March 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Pius has been accused by historians and Jewish groups of failing to speak out against the Holocaust, failing to commit the Church to saving Jews amid the genocide, and encouraging the conversion of Jews to Catholicism during the period.

The Vatican has defended him, saying he used behind-the-scenes diplomacy to try to save lives. Francis indicated he, too, embraced that interpretation.

Pius’s actions will be scrutinized as part of efforts underway to decide if he should be declared a saint. Francis indicated that the church was confident that the papacy would withstand the findings by historians studying the archives, saying Pius was “criticized, one can say, with some prejudice and exaggeration.”

“The church isn’t afraid of history, on the contrary, it loves it, and would like to love it even more, like it loves God,” Francis told staff at the archive.

“Thus, with the same trust of my predecessors, I open, and entrust to researchers, this patrimony of documentation.”

Pope Pius XII. (Wikipedia commons/Maximus0970/File)

Francis expressed certainty that historical research would properly evaluate Pius’s legacy “with appropriate criticism.”

He said the Pius papacy included “moments of grave difficulties, tormented decisions of human and Christian prudence, that to some could appear as reticence.” Instead, he said they could be seen as attempts “to keep lit, in the darkest and cruelest periods, the flame of humanitarian initiatives, of hidden but active diplomacy” aimed at possibly “opening hearts.”

One Jewish group calling for the archives’ release, the American Jewish Committee, said it comes after “more than 30 years” of advocacy.

“It is particularly important that experts from the leading Holocaust memorial institutes in Israel and the US objectively evaluate as best as possible the historical record of that most terrible of times, to acknowledge both the failures as well as the valiant efforts made during the period of the Shoah,” AJC’s Rabbi David Rosen was quoted by Reuters as saying.

In Israel, the decision was met with praise by the Foreign Ministry

“We are pleased by the decision and hope it will enable free access to all relevant archives,” ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said in a statement.

Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and museum welcomed the Vatican’s decision.

“For years, Yad Vashem has called for the opening of these archives, which will enable objective and open research as well as comprehensive discourse on issues related to the conduct of the Vatican in particular, and the Catholic Church in general, during the Holocaust,” the memorial said in a statement. “Yad Vashem expects that researchers will be granted full access to all documents stored in the archives.”

Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog also praised the move, saying it was a “brave and important step.”

He recalled that his grandfather, former chief rabbi Yitzhak Halevi Herzog, asked Pius during the Holocaust to “send me my people” but did not receive a response and later held a tense meeting with the pope after World War II.

The new ‘new anti-Semitism’ in Western Europe feels eerily familiar

Phenomenon has mutated yet again, reverting to its 20th-century economic elements and gaining a strong foothold in swelling populist movements


Anti-Semitic graffiti found on the Bagelstein restaurant in Paris, France on February 9. 2019. (screen capture: YouTube)

Anti-Semitic graffiti found on the Bagelstein restaurant in Paris, France on February 9. 2019. (screen capture: YouTube)

AMSTERDAM (JTA) — The working assumption about 21st-century anti-Semitism is that it is making a comeback in Western Europe due to a “perfect storm” driven by Muslim immigrants and European white ultra-nationalists.

This basic model has corresponded with the flowering of hate speech and crimes against Jews in Western Europe that began around 2000. That year, Muslim extremists for the first time torched several French synagogues over Israel’s war on Palestinian terrorists during the second intifada.

It was the onset of a phenomenon that later became known as “new anti-Semitism,” in which Jews are targeted as Israel’s agents or as payback for the Jewish state’s perceived abuses.

Two years later, the Holocaust denier and anti-Muslim agitator Jean-Marie Le Pen took his far-right National Front party to the second round of the presidential elections for the first time.

These coinciding developments heralded a new and disturbing reality in which two rival and relatively small groups appeared to be growing and, through their rhetoric and actions, were eroding the taboo placed on anti-Semitism following the horrors of the Holocaust.

But over the past four years, anti-Semitism in Western Europe has mutated yet again, reverting to its 20th-century economic elements and gaining a strong foothold in swelling populist movements. Purveyors don’t necessarily share a common political view, but they agree that Jews are the exemplars of an establishment they seek to overthrow.

French President Emmanuel Macron looks at a grave vandalized with a swastika during a visit to the Jewish cemetery in Quatzenheim, on February 19, 2019, on the day of nationwide marches against a rise in anti-Semitic attacks. (Frederick Florin/Pool/AFP)

This mutation, most visible in France’s yellow vest protests and the spreading of anti-Semitism within the British Labour Party, is remarkable in how quickly it has moved from the fringes of public discourse into mainstream frameworks.

The yellow vests blame Jewish financial interests for their economic and social woes. Labour members have targeted Israel and Zionists using familiar language about Jewish power and foreignness.

But the main and possibly most troubling distinction of the latest new anti-Semitism is how it cuts across major religious and ideological differences among its propagators, uniting unlikely bedfellows such as neo-Nazis, communists and jihadists under a single cause.

A man wearing a yellow vest holds a placard reading ‘I am Jew,’ during a gathering at the Republique square to protest against anti-Semitism, in Paris, France, Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus

“Anti-Semitism in Western Europe is morphing again,” said Mike Whine, the government and international affairs director at the Community Security Trust, British Jewry’s watchdog group. “It may take government a long time to recognize the change,” he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Reflecting the change is how rhetoric on Jewish domination of finance — often personified in the Rothschild banking family — has become “pervasive” in Labour since the far-left politician Jeremy Corbyn was elected to lead the party in 2015, according to Euan Philipps, the spokesman for the Labour Against Anti-Semitism action group.

UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves the stage after delivering a speech at Queens University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, May 24, 2018. (Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images via JTA)

This month a former lecturer at the University of Liverpool, who chairs a local branch of the Labour Party, was reported to have shared conspiracy theories about the Rothschild family on a talk show. Another party activist retweeted Rothschild memes from the anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist David Icke. A former Labour parliamentary candidate in Essex endorsed an online post in 2017 claiming the “Rothschild Family” was behind a Zionist plot to “take over the world.”

Andy Slack, who represented Labour on the City Council of Chesterfield, near Manchester, was suspended in 2016 for posting on Facebook an image of a hook-nosed Israeli soldier whose mouth and hands are covered in blood. The caption read “Israel was created by the Rothschilds, not God … And what they are doing to the Palestinian people now is EXACTLY what they intend for the whole world.”

Members of the Jewish community hold a protest against Britain’s opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and anti-Semitism in the Labour party, outside the British Houses of Parliament in central London on March 26, 2018. (AFP/Tolga Akmen)

In Spain, the leader of the rising far-left Podemos party, Pablo Iglesias, has hosted guests many times who inveigh against “the Jewish control on Wall Street,” as one of them defined it recently on his show “Fort Apache,” which airs on the Iranian regime’s propaganda channel HispanTV.

In France, which is home to nearly half of Western Europe’s approximately 1.3 million Jews, similar rhetoric has emerged in a wave of yellow vest demonstrations over fuel prices and taxes that began in November.

People walk down the Champs Elysees avenue on February 16, 2019 during the 14th consecutive week of ‘yellow vest’ protests. (Eric Feferberg/AFP)

From the onset, supporters of that mass movement took up anti-Semitic language, including a banner that called French President Emmanuel Macron “a whore of the Jews” and “President Rothschild.”

Last week, yellow vest protesters mobbed a Jewish philosopher who has declared his principled support for their cause. As police officers escorted Alain Finkielkraut to safety, the crowd chanted for him to “go to Tel Aviv” and called him “dirty Zionist.”

French Jewish philosopher Alain Finkielkraut is targeted by yellow vest protesters shouting anti-Semitic slogans, Paris, February 16, 2019 (Screen grab via Yahoo)

Leaders of that chaotic movement have either ignored these incidents or downplayed them as marginal while professing their general opposition to all forms of discrimination.

More than any other incident, the exchange involving Finkielkraut led to a wave of indignation in France over anti-Semitism. Thousands gathered in Paris on Tuesday for a rally against that form of racism following Macron’s condemnations, especially the incident involving Finkielkraut. Other rallies were held across the country.

But that case was an example of the so-called new anti-Semitism that erupted in 2000, in which anti-Israel sentiment played an outsize role.

What’s different now?

The proliferation of theories about Jewish financial power and the Rothschilds do not involve Israel. And while this form of classic anti-Semitism, associated with “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” had never entirely left Europe, it certainly had been marginalized after the Holocaust.

“Its return in a big way is a new development,” according to Marc Weitzmann, a French author and journalist who has written extensively about anti-Semitism in France.

The main components of modern anti-Semitism in France are not new, Weitzmann said. What has changed, he said, is how the narratives of the far left, far right and Muslim extremists “have begun to mirror each other and are now converging against the Jews and toward violence in ways that would have been unthinkable in France prior to 2015.”

Weitzmann said the catalyst for this convergence are jihadist terrorist attacks that have claimed hundreds of lives in France and Belgium since 2015.

“Terror has freed a general violence” in society, he said.

As for the return of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories to mainstream debate in Europe, it does not come as a shock to Whine, the Community Security Trust executive from Britain.

Illustrative: Nazi signs reading ‘Jews out’ and swastikas are painted at the entrance of a Jewish cemetery in Herrlisheim, eastern France, in this April 30, 2004 photo. (AP Photo/Gil Michel)

“You’ve always had this sentiment under the surface,” he said. “It’s coming out as a result of the collapse of the political center, loss of faith in democratic institutions and economic crises, for which Jews are being blamed.”

The mainstreaming of classical anti-Semitism by the far left was seen in 2013 when Corbyn publicly defended a London mural depicting Jewish bankers playing Monopoly on the backs of black people. The incident “in many ways represents the problem,” Whine said. (Corbyn has since apologized for defending the work.)

On the right, politicians who were considered centrist not long ago have also taken up language reminiscent of 1930s vitriol about Jews.

Last year, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said in a speech that his government was fighting an enemy that is “not open but hiding; not straightforward but crafty; not honest but base; not national but international; does not believe in working but speculates with money; does not have its own homeland but feels it owns the whole world.”

Illustrative: A gravestone daubed with a swastika and the words ‘tolerance is weakness’ at the Cherkasy Jewish cemetery, Ukraine, May 5, 2017. (Courtesy)

US President Donald Trump’s election amid his expressions of disdain for “globalists” has coincided with a marked increase in hate crimes against American Jews — some by perpetrators who identify those globalists as Jewish.

Amid widespread discontent with the European Union, vilification of Israel and radicalization in Muslim communities, the number of anti-Semitic incidents reported in Western Europe has increased in Germany (10 percent over 2017 to 1,646 incidents); France (74 percent to 541 cases) and the United Kingdom (16 percent to a record 1,652 incidents last year).

The government response

Western European governments, several of which have recently adopted a far-reaching definition of anti-Semitism, have not been idle as all this was happening.

In France, where soldiers were posted to guard synagogues in 2015 following a jihadist’s slaying of four Jews at a Paris kosher shop, the judiciary has cracked down on anti-Semitic hate crimes. Last month, the anti-Semitic author Alain Soral was given a rare one-year prison sentence for his writings.

Addressing the advent of new anti-Semitism, Macron in 2017 became the first French president to publicly call anti-Zionism a form of anti-Semitism. He said this at his country’s main Holocaust commemoration event.

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during the 34th annual dinner of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions of France (CRIF – Conseil Representatif des Institutions juives de France) on February 20, 2019, at the Louvre Carrousel in Paris. (Ludovic Marin/Pool/AFP)

In Britain, the government last year pledged $17.5 million in security funding for the Community Security Trust, which fights anti-Semitism in addition to providing protection to British Jews.

And in Germany, the government created a new role of commissioner for fighting anti-Semitism, among other actions.

So why has this action and awareness failed to lower the flames of ant-Semitism?

To Weitzmann, the answer is in the conspiratorial sentiments that fan the flames of anti-Semitism in the first place.

“Government efforts to curb anti-Semitism fail precisely because they’re coming from the government, which anti-Semites believe is controlled by globalist Jews,” he said. “It’s a vicious cycle.”

Still, talk of a return of 1930s anti-Semitism to Europe is inaccurate, said Weitzmann, whose book about these issues, “Hate,” will be coming out next month.

“Back then, anti-Semitism was implemented from governments down,” Weitzmann said. “Today it’s the other way around: It’s rising from the base and governments are trying to stop it, although not very successfully.”

Holocaust survivor’s son quits UK Labour over ‘extremism, anti-Semitism’

Ian Austin, the adopted child of a refugee, is ninth MP to quit the British opposition party, but says he won’t be joining the newly formed centrist Independent Group


Illustrative: UK Labour MP Ian Austin accuses party leader Jeremy Corbyn of anti-Semitism during a Commons debate on April 17, 2018. (Screen capture: YouTube)

Illustrative: UK Labour MP Ian Austin accuses party leader Jeremy Corbyn of anti-Semitism during a Commons debate on April 17, 2018. (Screen capture: YouTube)

A ninth British lawmaker on Friday announced he had left the Labour Party, accusing it of having a “culture of extremism, anti-Semitism and intolerance” under leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Ian Austin told the BBC that the leadership of the party had failed to tackle the problem of hatred toward Jews, and had turned the party into a “narrow sect.”

“I grew up listening to my dad, who was a refugee from the Holocaust, teaching me about the evils of hatred and prejudice,” 

“One of the main reasons I joined the Labour Party as a teenager here in Dudley more than 35 years ago was to fight racism and I could never have believed I would be leaving the Labour Party because of racism too,” he said.

Austin has frequently criticized Corbyn in the past, saying that under his leadership some members of the Labour Party “go beyond legitimate and passionately held views about the plight of the Palestinians and tip over into anti-Semitism.”

Last year he faced disciplinary action by the party after accusations he swore at party chairman Ian Lavery during a “heated discussion” about Labour’s failure to tackle anti-Semitism.

Austin is the adopted son of a Holocaust survivor and has always said his politics and his father’s story are inextricably linked.

“That left me with a lifelong conviction that prejudice leads to intolerance, then to victimization and eventually to persecution, and that every one of us has a duty not to stand by, but to make a difference — to fight discrimination, intolerance and bigotry wherever we find it,” Austin told Parliament in a speech to mark Holocaust Memorial Day in 2012.

However, Austin said he was not joining eight other ex-Labour lawmakers and three Conservatives who this week formed the centrist Independent Group.

Labour MP Joan Ryan, chair of Labour Friends of Israel (Courtesy)

Joan Ryan, who headed the Labour Friends of Israel, announced late Tuesday that after four decades in the party she was leaving Labour to sit with the newly formed Independent Group in Parliament.

Ryan, the MP for Enfield North in London, said the party had become “infected with the scourge of anti-Jewish racism” under Corbyn, a longtime supporter of the Palestinians. She had long expressed concerns about Corbyn.

Seven Labour legislators quit Monday, accusing the party leader of failing to stamp out anti-Semitism in the party and of mounting a weak opposition to Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May’s plans for leaving the European Union.

The breakaway lawmakers hope to gain members from among disgruntled pro-Europeans in both the Labour and Conservative parties.

The original seven announced Monday they were breaking away and forming an independent group.

“This has been a very difficult, painful but necessary decision,” one of the MPs, Luciana Berger, said at a hastily arranged press conference in London, calling the party “institutionally anti-Semitic.”

“I am leaving behind a culture of bullying, bigotry and intimidation,” she added.

Former Labour Party MP Luciana Berger (C) arrives with MPs Chris Leslie (3R), Angela Smith (2R) and Gavin Shuker, to speak at a press conference in London on February 18, 2019, where they announced their resignation from the Labour Party, and the formation of a new independent group of MPs (Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP)

Earlier this month Berger, who is Jewish, faced a no confidence vote, later canceled, by local party members who said she was “continuously criticizing” leader Corbyn amid the ongoing row over anti-Semitism in the party.

Many Labour lawmakers are unhappy with the party’s direction under Corbyn, a veteran socialist who took charge in 2015 with strong grassroots backing.

They accuse him of mounting a weak opposition to the Conservative government’s plans for leaving the European Union, and of failing to stamp out a vein of anti-Jewish prejudice in the party.

Labour lawmakers last week sent an angry letter to Corbyn over what they described as a lackluster response from the party’s leadership to lawmakers’ calls for transparency over its handling of anti-Semitism complaints.

Earlier this month, lawmakers unanimously passed a motion demanding that party leaders provide detailed data in writing by February 11 on the handling of complaints about anti-Semitism, with some MPs accusing top officials in the party of covering up the figures.

The internal party motion passed at Labour’s weekly parliamentary meeting in the lower house, escalating internal rifts over the issue. The motion called “on the party leadership to adequately tackle cases of anti-Semitism, as a failure to do so seriously risks anti-Semitism in the party appearing normalized and the party seeming to be institutionally anti-Semitic.”

MPs also demanded that party officials such as General Secretary Jennie Formby or leader Jeremy Corbyn attend the meeting to answer questions about the data.

Jennie Formby at the 2016 Labour Party conference. (Wikimedia commons/Rwendland)

But the seven MPs said in their letter last week that no one came to speak to them at the Parliamentary Labour Party meeting. An email containing just nine months’ worth of information was sent to lawmakers by Formby 90 minutes before the meeting, they said.

“The failure to respect the request for this simple information does nothing to dispel the accusation that Labour is an institutionally anti-Semitic organization,” the seven MPs charged.

Some lawmakers also flatly rejected the figures, saying they don’t believe them.

In her email, Formby offered details on the extent of anti-Semitism complaints between April 2018 and January 2019, saying 673 complaints were received by party institutions about Labour members. (An additional 433 complaints were revealed to be against individuals who were not actually members of the party.)

Of these, 211 were deemed sufficiently serious to warrant an investigation, leading to 96 Labour Party members being immediately suspended. In another 44 cases, members left the party voluntarily once challenged with evidence of anti-Semitism. Another 12 were expelled from the party by the National Constitutional Committee, the only body with the authority to do so.

Members of the Jewish community hold a protest against Britain’s opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, outside the British Houses of Parliament in central London on March 26, 2018. (AFP/Tolga Akmen)

Several hundred others were either given one-off written warnings or their cases were dropped over lack of evidence. In all, just over 300 individuals were investigated or suspended for anti-Semitic actions in the nine months covered by the figures.

The row in the party comes amid rising levels of reported anti-Semitic incidents in Britain and a spike in Jewish concern over anti-Semitism throughout Europe.

Last week, British Jewry’s watchdog and security group, the Community Security Trust (CST), reported that 2018 had seen the third consecutive record high for reported anti-Semitic incidents in the UK. At 1,652 incidents nationwide, it was 16 percent higher than the previous year and the highest number since CST began keeping track in 1984.

Meanwhile, an EU report published in December found some 90% of Jews across Europe felt that anti-Semitism had increased where they live.

Polish PM says nation’s Holocaust involvement was ‘individual criminals’

Morawiecki tells Haaretz that Katz’s statements on anti-Semitism are words that could be used by ‘a radical extremist, but not by a foreign minister’


Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki arrives at the informal EU summit in Salzburg, Austria, September 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Kerstin Joensson)

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki arrives at the informal EU summit in Salzburg, Austria, September 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Kerstin Joensson)

As the diplomatic falling out with Israel continues, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki stated in an interview published Friday that while he acknowledged that the Polish population included “individual criminals, as in any nation,” he would not accept a generalization about his country’s involvement in the horrors of the Holocaust.

“I have no problem with someone mentioning the fact that during the cruel, evil, dehumanizing war there were individual criminals in my nation — obviously there were, just as in every other nation,” Morawiecki told the Haaretz daily. “But when you use these stereotypes that ‘every Pole suckled anti-Semitism out of their mother’s breast,’ it’s nothing short of racism.”

Morawiecki on Sunday canceled his country’s participation in a high-level summit in Israel, as a diplomatic spat continued over comments made by Acting Foreign Minister Israel Katz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Polish collaboration with the Nazis. Netanyahu’s office later said that his comments on Poles’ collaboration with the Nazis were misquoted by Israeli media; he had not blamed the Polish nation for Holocaust crimes, but rather individual Poles.

Katz made the more inflammatory remarks in a TV interview on Sunday, after earlier that day being appointed acting foreign minister by Netanyahu.

Prime Minister of Poland Mateusz Morawiecki, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a conference on Peace and Security in the Middle East in Warsaw, Poland, February 14, 2019. (AP/Michael Sohn)

“I am a son of Holocaust survivors and I was even born and grew up in a community made up of Holocaust survivors,” Katz told Channel 13. “The memory of the Holocaust is something we cannot compromise about; it is clear and we won’t forget or forgive.

“In diplomacy you try not to offend, but nobody will change the historical truth to do something like that,” he added. “Poles collaborated with the Nazis, definitely. As [former prime minister] Yitzhak Shamir said, they suckle anti-Semitism with their mothers’ milk.”

On Monday morning Katz told Israel Radio that “the Poles took part in the extermination of Jews in the Holocaust. Poland became the biggest cemetery of the Jewish people.”

Morawiecki told Haaretz that he was astounded that the remarks came from the foreign minister.

“When I first heard of this it seemed totally unbelievable. Such words could be used by a radical extremist, but not by a foreign minister,” Morawiecki said. “I understand that in the course of an electoral campaign some politicians want to make headlines.”

Israel Katz attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on February 17, 2019. (Sebastian Scheiner/Pool/AFP)

The Polish leader also denied that his country has a problem with hatred toward Jews.

“We also have to cope with some anti-Semitism in Poland, but fortunately it is marginal,” Morawiecki said.

“Poland is one of the few countries in the EU where the number of anti-Semitic incidents is decreasing, while in many others we are witnessing worrying developments,” he added.

On Thursday night, Katz himself remained unapologetic, reiterating that “many Poles” cooperated with the Nazis in World War II.

“We reject actions that aim to blame Poland or the Polish nation as a whole for the crimes committed by the Nazis and their collaborators from other nations,” Morawiecki said during the Haaretz interview.

He went on to say that despite Netanyahu’s clarification about his remarks in Warsaw, the Israeli leader’s words were “not well-received in Poland,” adding that “I can only say that if someone ever misquoted my own words, I would take all effort to clarify it.”

Tensions between the two countries have been high ever since Poland passed legislation outlawing the blaming of Nazi crimes against Jews during World War II on Poland.

Israeli officials initially railed against the Polish law as a distortion of history. The measure led to a major diplomatic rift when the Polish parliament first green- lighted the legislation in January 2018.

But the dispute over the law appeared to be resolved last year when Poland softened the legislation, and Netanyahu and his Polish counterpart agreed on a joint declaration stressing the involvement of the Polish resistance in helping Jews.

It was seen as a diplomatic coup for Poland but Netanyahu faced criticism from historians in Israel, including Yad Vashem – The World Holocaust Remembrance Center, for agreeing to a statement that they said distorted history.

This 1942 photo provided by the the public prosecutor’s office in Hamburg via the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, shows Heinrich Himmler, center left, shaking hands with new guard recruits at the Trawniki concentration camp in Nazi occupied Poland. (public prosecutor’s office in Hamburg via the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum via AP)

Morawiecki echoed the narrative absolving Poland of any claims of collaboration with Germany during World War II.

“Collaboration with Germany was never an official position of the Polish state,” he said. “The wartime Underground Polish State persecuted all those who were denouncing Jews, sentenced them to death and executed them, even during the war,” he said.

“Occupied Poland was one of the very few states without a puppet Nazi government. And the only one in which a person helping Jews faced death penalty at the hands of the Germans. And not only this person — their entire families as well,” Morawiecki continued.

“It was a brave act to do so. Still, tens of thousands of Poles, perhaps even more, were helping their Jewish brethren… We share common history. Our nations were both victims of Nazi Germany. We should not allow some radicals to rewrite history and destroy the memory of that.”

But despite the diplomatic row with Israel, Morawiecki said he believed relations between the country were still strong.

“I don’t think there is a deep crisis between Poland and Israel. I understand that in the course of an electoral campaign some politicians want to make headlines. But in general, my government is one of the most pro-Israeli in the EU and in the United Nations. We openly criticized the BDS initiatives (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) aimed against Israel.”